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7.01.2016

I Am:

Live anywhere for any amount of time and you’ll encounter tragic stories of violence that flood our news sites. Stories of mass beheadings, mass shootingspolice officer shootings, police officers being murderedstabbing deaths, the 9-11 terror attacks, etc.

We must take careful notice, however, that none of this originated in our modern era.  Recall Andrea Yates, the mother accused of drowning all of her children in a bathtub; mass suicide/murder in Guyana, and a plethora of other horrors that bloody the pages of human history.

People have blamed drugs and alcohol; religion, politicians, and governments; pools, tubs, and, cars; bombs, knives, and fists; liberals, conservatives, and communists.

But the single common factor found in all of these atrocities is the dark, sin-sickened hearts that plague fallen human beings.  From the dawn of humanity, Man’s wickedness has been widespread (both in the days of Noah and now), and that every thought of our minds is evil all the time (Genesis 6:5).  Jeremiah the prophet proclaimed about Judah – as if we didn’t prove or know it even in our own hearts – that sin is written with an iron stylus on the heart (Jeremiah 17:1). Jeremiah continued, “the human heart is more deceitful than anything else, and is incurable” (Jeremiah 17:10).

Left to our own devices and sin, apart from Jesus Christ, and separated from our Creator, the simple truth is this: We will all surely die!  Sin has a 100% success rate among fallen humanity, and we prove daily that we truly are in need of a Savior.  We can blame everyone and everything else in this world for what’s wrong with us, but when we fail to look inside and observe our own darkness of heart to see its deep depravity, we will forever continue blaming others.

God has been patient with us so far, allowing us to take in beauty and chaos, life and death, victory and defeat, and the majesty of the heavens and the earth.  It’s something theologians call "common grace". And if witnessing all that we have doesn’t draw us to our Creator, crying out for mercy and forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ, then we will forever be lost, wondering who or what to blame next, proving that we have ultimately suppressed truth (Romans 1:18). 

When asked “What’s wrong with the world?” GK Chesterton simply and humbly answered, “I am.”

6.21.2016

The Minecrafter's Bible (book review)

My son is a big – no, H U G E ! – Minecraft fan, so when I saw "The Mincrafters Bible" become available for review, I was sure to jump at the chance.  Not only that, but it became available just a few days before his birthday.  Thankfully, it arrived in time to give it to him as a gift…I only asked that he provide me with three likes and dislikes about it.  We came up with 4 and 2 respectively. The following are HIS opinions, with my editorial to help clarify any specifics.

LIKES:
1)      The first thin any kid (young and grown) looks for in ANY book is what?  Yeah, pictures!  My son was very pleased with the style and quality of pictures.  We live in a high-def digital age, so I don’t fully understand the craze regarding pixilated pictures.  Nevertheless, they’re pretty accurate to what I’ve seen on his computer screen.  The pictures are used to pictorially enhance various biblical accounts.  There aren’t a ton of pictures, but there are apparently plenty for an 11-year old.

2)      Next, and still pertaining to the pictures, my son liked that the pictures offer suggestions about building a character and/or scene.  I found it interesting that the player could follow along throughout the entire Bible and by the end could have created an entire "Bible world", so to speak.

3)      Finally, and yes, S T I L L pertaining to the pictures (they must be REALLY good pictures), my son likes it that a small box within the picture provides the location in the Bible where the pictured account can be read.  I guess I had hoped he’d express his great pleasure with discovering concepts like grace, or the implications of the Cross, but alas!  Pictures are worth a thousand words, they say.

4) Adult study Bibles tend to have word-use or Greek/Hebrew definitions in sidebars.  He’d like something like that, but not with the Greek/Hebrew, I’m certain.  He THOUGHT this Bible didn't have a dictionary feature, but it does!  In the back index is a dictionary for young readers.  While the dictionary doesn't provide pronunciations, it does provide a brief explanation for terms like "Baal", for example.

DISLIKES:
1)      First, I must provide a tad bit of insight here before continuing.  My son is completely blind in one eye, so font/type size is a big deal for him in ANY book he reads – be it a Bible or text book.  He struggles to read small print.  Well, I'm getting older, and so do I.  And I must say, the font size in The Minecrafters Bible is quite small.  But, I suppose it needs to be in order to keep the overall size of the Bible small enough for a kid to carry around in his backpack.

2)      Finally, my son likes brief book introductions many study Bibles provide.  The Minecrafters Bible does not contain any individual book introductions.  However,  each chapter does begin with a sub-title, giving young readers an idea what the chapter contains.

RATING: Overall, we give The Mincrafters Bible 3 ½ stars out of 5.

DISCLAIMER: I received this Bible free of charge from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my unbiased opinion.  All opinions are my son’s (with my added clarifications).  We were not coerced to provide a positive review.

6.02.2016

"With My Eyes Wide Open", by Brian "Head" Welch (book review)

I’m a musician, so of course I jumped at the opportunity to review, “With My Eyes Wide Open”, by Brian “Head” Welch.  Head is the former-now-returned member of KoRn who trusted Christ for salvation several years ago.  This book details his various financial and familial issues throughout his past.

Overall, I thought the book was well written and interesting.  It wasn’t a thrilling page-turner, but for musicians, it is definitely an eye-opener.  Often, we dream of becoming famous this-or-that’s.  But until we get a glimpse behind the scenes of the toll fame places on people and their families, we don’t really know what we’re asking for.  I can tell you that I’m happy being little ol’ me after reading this one.

I cannot judge the man’s salvation or commitment, for that is not my position.  I do have a couple thoughts, though, that trouble me about some of Head’s spiritual methodologies. 

Most prominent were the numerous times throughout the book where Head said he asked God to give him a sign for this-or-that, or to show him how he ought to proceed with a decision to be made.  When something favorable happened, it was deemed a positive sign of God’s apparent favor.  As is often the case in life, we know positive circumstances aren’t always necessarily proof of God’s leading or blessing as it pertains to a decision or course of action.

Throughout the book, Head described struggling with decisions about quitting and returning to music because of the negative effect touring had on his relationship with his daughter.  It was obviously a difficult struggle, and I’m not judging his final decision to return to KorRn as right or wrong.  However, Head said he initially quit the industry for reasons mentioned above, but little-by-little revealed that he moved right back into the industry – even though it had negative ramifications with his daughter.  I’m not in his shoes, and I recognize a passion for music is a difficult thing from which to walk away. The final decision is between him, his family, and his Maker.

All of this said, I truly admire Head's faith-commitment to Jesus Christ. What a profound life-transformation he has seen. It's great to see his trust in Christ is strong in the dark world of metal. As he said, God has saved him from the world to go into the world.

I don’t know that this book will be on the top-10 autobiographies list, but it is an interesting read for music fans.  All-in-all, I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.


Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my unbiased review.  All opinions are mine.

5.23.2016

"Apostle Paul and the Earliest Churches" (video review)


I was asked by FishFlix.com staff if I’d be willing to review Christian DVDs. I didn’t know which genre’s movie I’d receive, but I was pretty stoked when I saw it was a biblical documentary: Apostle Paul and the EarliestChurches DVD.  I’m not really into fiction (books or movies, to be honest), so this one promised/hoped to be right up my alley.  

However, when I inserted the DVD into my blue ray player, I was a little taken aback when I heard the odd music and saw the less-than-stellar picture quality on my screen.  My first impression was, “Wow, this seems dated” (which I discovered in the end credits that it was copyrighted/produced in 2003!).

The content of the video itself takes the watcher through Paul’s missionary journeys as told by Luke in the book of Acts, stopping briefly at the cities of Asia Minor.  The video showed excavations as well as modern life in those ancient locations.  Being only 48 minutes long, however, the video’s brief stops at each city are but mere fly-by's, each stop not containing much depth.

From the DVD menu, the controller has the option to select from the various DVD chapters:
  • Paul’s Calling
  • First Missionary Journey
  • Second Missionary Journey
  • Third Missionary Journey
  • A Lasting Legacy

After the video has run its course, you can remove the DVD and insert it into your PC’s CD-ROM for an added feature: a PDF study guide.  I’ll be honest, the study guide (in my opinion) was pretty decent.  The guide contained a few pictures, brief historical background, and numerous questions for individual or group study.

FishFlix is offering a $5 coupon, however, if you join their email list.  You can join by visiting www.fishflix.com/5gift or texting 5-GIFT to 44222.


Recommendations/Rating: I give this one just 2 stars.  I wasn’t very interesting/engaging, and its quality is dated.

Disclaimer: I received this DVD free of charge from FishFlix.com in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine.

5.13.2016

"Guys Slimline Bible (NLT)" by Tyndale House Publishers (book review)


The “Guys Slimline Bible, New Living Translation” is a nice, sleek Bible that would make for a great gift…especially with graduations approaching.  Here’s what it’s like:

General Description – overall, this Bible’s appearance is very classy!

Cover: two-tone (black and blue) leather – very nice, very manly.

Dimensions: approximately 7/8” thick (x)  5-5/8” wide (x) 8” tall

Weight: approximately 1 pound

Binding: The exterior binding has black, subdued imprint of “HOLY BIBLE”.

Text Font: Lucerna, according to the copyright information page.

Font size: approximately 10 point (I couldn’t figure it out exactly, but it’s a tad small.  It’s not
TOO small that it strains my eyes, but it’s not children’s book font size, either.

Column widths: There are two columns per page, and each column measures approximately 2-3/16” wide.

Red Letter edition: meaning that all of Jesus’s spoken words are in easy-to-find red letters.

There is a single, blue, nylon page marker attached to the binding.

The Bible I received arrived in a slip-in cardboard cover, which would make for easy gift-wrapping.

The exterior of the pages are all glossy silver tipped.


General Contents

Aside from all the legal pages and book index is an introduction to how the New Living Translation was derived.  It provides a nice, concise history that may prove interesting/beneficial to some.  Others will probably skip right past it.

This Bible does not contain any lengthy footer commentaries.  That can be good OR bad, depending how you look at it.  However, it does contain some brief cross references in the page footers.

The back of the Bible contains a “Dictionary/Concordance” and a couple neat features that I like: “Great Chapters of the Bible” and “Great Verses of the Bible to Memorize”.  This gives someone who might be a new or young believer a place to start in their studies or memorization.

For those who are interested in reading through the Bible in a year, this one contains a 365-Day Reading Plan in the back as well.

Finally, the color maps are last in this Bible.  The coolest map of all (in my opinion) is the one titled, “Ministry of Jesus”.  In that map, key interactions (and locations) of Jesus that we find in the pages of scripture are plotted on the map by a single letter, which are then crossed referenced back to the chapter/verse account narrative in the sidebar.  So, if you were to look at just the map and put your finger on Bethsaida, you’d find the letter “H”.  In the sidebar, the “H” then reads, “Bethsaida: (1) possible location of feeding of multitudes (Mt 14:13-21…); (2) blind man healed (Mk 8:22-26).  I thought this was a REALLY great idea!

Price: The book sleeve/cover lists this Bible at $24.99


Rating: I give this one 4 stars.  I really like it, but didn’t fall in LOVE with it.  I like the NLT (It’s not my preferred version, but that’s a debatable issue), it’s sharp for a young man (it’s not a girly-looking Bible), and its contents are very simple.

Disclaimer: I received this Bible free of charge from the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine.

4.28.2016

"The Most Excellent Way to Lead", by Perry Noble (book review)


Countless books abound on the topic of leadership.  Many are good, and some are ok.  But still others are great, and well worth the time to take in all the wisdom they contain.  “The Most Excellent Way to Lead” is one of the great ones, in my opinion.

Using personal, humorous anecdotes, Perry Noble wittily and winsomely constructs what could have been another bland leadership primer into something far more enjoyable.  The leadership principles contained within Noble’s book are based on what is often referred to as the Bible’s “Love Chapter”: First Corinthians 13. Each theme within that passage (love is patient, love is kind, etc.) serves as the springboard for each of this book’s chapters.  The premise is that leadership must be based on love, and love is given various descriptors in the Bible. Therefore, lead out of love for people.

LIKES: 

1) I appreciated the many challenges Noble presented throughout the book.  I often reflected on my own life as I read, thinking, “I don’t do that very well.” Or “I need to be more mindful of this.”  While I was reading this book, I also happened to attend a one-day leadership workshop with a few men from the church to which I belong.  Some similar comments from within the workshop experience coincided with the principles Noble raised to the forefront of my thoughts.  This was a positive experience because both contexts served to drive the points home that needed my attention as a person and as a leader.

2) The statement that MOST impacted me from the entire book is this: “The way we think about other people is the launching pad for how we lead with our actions” (p.151).  As an informal leader, I often struggle with this because I easily grow impatient with people.  I have high expectations for myself, as well as high expectations for those on the team under my care.  I have the tendency to automatically think pessimistically in certain situations, rather than giving others the benefit of the doubt.  When I think that way, I react (even overreact) in a way that is not always effective.  I have been reminded to straighten myself up because, as Noble wrote in the introduction, “…the best leaders don’t have titles, but they do have a voice people want to listen to” (p. xiii).   Rather than negative, I must consciously double my efforts to insure my voice is winsome instead.

Overall, I was very pleased with this book.  It’s one I’ll keep on my bookshelf for future reference, reminder, and encouragement.  So my following comments must be weighed within the context of understanding that I truly liked this book, but have just a couple beefs with it.

DISLIKES: 

1) While I understand this book was not intended to be a theological treatise, I was disappointed that Noble, in one part especially, reduced Jesus to simply having been “the best leader ever”.  Now, to be fair, Noble included a section at the end of the book regarding what sin and salvation truly are, and there was a spattering of the gospel throughout the book.  However, Noble cited Jesus’s willingness to “lay down his life” for his people (p.93 and all of chapter 7), but then skipped the TRUE meaning behind that biblical statement within the chapter itself, and instead exchanged it for a mere leadership principle.  It was a good time for him to lay out the gospel message, rather than glossing over it.  As if we are on the same level as Jesus, Noble equated us as leaders as being called to “serve and sacrifice” just as Jesus did.  While Jesus was indeed a leader on earth, he’s so much more than that!  We cannot – at the expense of who Jesus is in all his glory – neglect the fact that he is the Savior of all sinners who would come to him in repentance.  I’m not suggesting that anyone who writes a leadership book should never refer to Jesus, but to cite passages from the Bible and not explain the gospel is dangerous.

2) Noble wrote of a conversation he once had with a friend, who offered: “Words don’t have meanings; people have meanings” (p.2).  While I understand what the friend – and, in turn, Noble – meant by the phrase (lead by loving people within their contexts and situations), I fear leadership principles can become cute little phrases that we insert into daily planners if we’re not careful.  This simple phrase doesn’t really make sense, when one looks at it a little closer.  After all, aren’t words and their meanings the entire reason Noble wrote the book in the first place?  He’s trying to convince us WITH WORDS that these leadership principles work.  Ironically, aren’t words and their meanings the reasons why his friend was able to SAY “words don’t have meanings”?  Whenever reading any book, we as readers need to be careful not to swallow every clever phrase without actually chewing on it first, because words – in fact – DO have meaning.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t be reading the book.

RATING: I give “The Most Excellent Way to Lead” 4 stars out of 5.  It was very well done, and it’s one you ought to consider reading for your edification or leadership book club.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from the Tyndale Blog Network.  All opinions are mine, and I was not obligated to write a positive review for this book.

4.07.2016

"Man Myth Messiah", by Rice Broocks (book review)

"Man Myth Messiah" is the second book by the author of "God's Not Dead", Rice Broocks.  Broocks’s intent is to provide a defense for the historicity of Messiah Jesus.  The book consists of 10 chapters broken up according to the various topics, and is 250 pages long.

“Man Myth Messiah” is an OK book – from an apologetics perspective.  I liked it, and I think Broocks had many worthwhile ideas.  Broocks is definitely correct in writing, "When it comes to Jesus Christ, there has definitely been a higher standard, unreasonably high at times, for establishing the facts surrounding His life, works, and words" (p.9).  And this thought serves as the main premise of the entire book.  He provided some basic facts that help readers understand how historical evidence is scrutinized and weighed: (1)multiple independent witnesses and (2)sources that originated shortly after the events being described.

SHORTCOMINGS:

Overall, I think this book fell short of providing any real meat, especially when compared to scholarly apologetic works.  There were a few instances where a topic would be introduced and followed up with very short, shallow support.  For instance, page 29 began the presentation of facts that Jesus was indeed crucified.  Broocks wrote, "Not only do all four gospels report it, but virtually all early church writings are filled with references to this event.  On top of this evidence..." (p.30).  But the following evidence of support consisted of three brief paragraphs that merely introduced Josephus, Tacitus, and Lucian – three non-Christian historians – rather than detailing to any significant depth any of their writings.

Other areas of weak support came on page 54, when Broocks explained that the gospels were written a shorter time after Jesus's life than was Alexander the Great's biography, and that more gospel manuscripts survived than did many other ancient writings, such as the Iliad.  That was just about the depth of coverage, which spanned just a little over one full page.

In both instances, I would have preferred that Broocks provide more researched information supporting his arguments.  After all, most readers do not have the time (or maybe even interest) to conduct our own research of these claims, so we rely on well-documented research to be conducted for us.  Instead, issues like the ones mentioned came across to me as a simple, “Take my word for it…there’s more out there.”  I don’t find that sufficient, to be honest.

ON THE MARK:

What I TRULY like about Broocks's writing is that while he may be a little too surface level regarding apologetics (at least in this book, anyway), he is a clear presenter of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Broocks clearly explains that we are sinners in need of a savior, and that that Savior is none other than the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Chapters 4 and 5 are wonderfully written, dealing well with the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, and their theological implications.

RATING / RECOMMENDATION:  Someone looking for an in-depth, academic book providing support for   the historicity of Jesus will not find it in this book.  It might be a good introductory book for someone just beginning to dig into apologetics, as I think the intent was to write a basic primer, rather than a doctoral dissertation.


I give "Man Myth Messiah" just 2 ½ stars out of 5.  It wasn’t my favorite, yet it wasn’t my least favorite.  Instead, it was simply a let-down.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to submit a positive review.